Just a little light bulb

I haven’t written much for this blog in a while, and for that I apologise. The main reason is I have decided to spend time in reflection. Not about my current situation, but rather the journey I have made to get here.

I know it sounds cliché, but life most definitely is a roller coaster. It throws you around at high speed, with only the smallest safety bar to keep you in place. It’s a great ride whilst you are out in the open sun, feeling the wind in your air. And then, before you realise it, you can be plunged into darkness; struggling to see an exit whilst feeling as though you are free falling.

One piece of text I always remember, which has a lot of meaning behind it, was written by J. K. Rowling, through her character Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter. “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Whilst it can be taken for the usual understanding of there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or to find that one thing in your life which is good and to cling onto it, I personally have a different way of thinking about it.

Scrolling through Tumblr (see my previous posts on this toxic website), there are hundreds, even thousands, of sketches associated with hanging. Whether black and white photos of nooses, or hand drawn sketches, in my own mind, I add the smallest of details to change it.

Take the hand drawn noose. They are normally pretty basic with a straight line leading to an oval at the bottom. By simply adding an additional line from the top of the oval to half way into it, in my own mind, I have changed that depressive image, into a light bulb, full of light, warmth and energy.

And that’s the thing that people struggle to do in their own heads. They cannot see the light when they are at the darkest. And that is where you, as friend and family, come into it. You need to help them turn that noose into a light bulb. You need to turn the blade into a hand written note from you to them. Turn the gun into a cup of coffee.

The most important thing though, above anything else, is to be patient with the person. There are times we will be frustrating. Times we will be infuriating. Times we will make you cry. But it is not done against you. It’s not deliberate. It is because, at times, we don’t know how else to be, or what else to say or do.

But, we will forever be grateful. Friendship, family, having that by our side, it means we can, in years to come, reflect back. And that, between you and me, can be the difference between everything and nothing.

What the General Election could mean for mental health

Theresa May has taken the somewhat surprising step of calling a general election only two years into the current Governments term. Whilst the reasons for doing so will be discussed for many years to come in history books, there is a very real question which must be answered. What does a general election mean for the mental health services.

In 2015, every main political party was talking mental health. They knew it was a topic that people cared about, and wanted to be seen as being willing to act on it. Going into this election, each party must maintain this desire to help and, most importantly, ensure it is key in the actions of the next government.

Whoever wins the election must, without any shadow of a doubt, enforce and deliver the promises that were made within the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (the national plan to improve mental health). If they really want to act correctly on mental health however, they need to go beyond this to ensure that mental health is treated on an equal footing with physical health.

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health was a landmark moment. It set out the details on a plan to invest £1 billion into mental health services, and improve care by 2021. All national bodies, including the NHS, who deliver services and support agreed to do their role in ensuring its delivery.

The only way we can ensure that this will happen is by targeting each and every candidate standing in your constituency. Get them to answer the question. Will they ensure that the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health is honoured and acted upon? You can either do this by attending a local hustings session, where you can put forward your question to be answered, or in writing either on social media or e-mail/post. However you do it, make sure it is done in a way where the answers can be recorded and shared, or where those who refuse to answer are publically seen to be shying away from it.

And, the most important thing you can do this election is to vote. If you are over 18, make sure you have your say. Do not believe people when they tell you that your vote won’t matter. As we have seen recently, in elections all over, votes do matter. If you haven’t registered to vote, then all you have to do is click here and put in your details.

Remember, only by working together can we ensure a better future for those with mental health.

Romanticising Mental Illness must end today

I would apologise, and say this isn’t my normal piece offering hope and words of advice. But, this piece cannot come with an apology. It needs to be said. People need to listen; to understand. If everyone does not listen, we face a bigger problem than the stigma originally around mental health.

Logging into many websites, and I will once again use Tumblr as an example, following the same key words as you will find this post under will bring up an array of posts. Black and white images, accompanied by subtitles. Hand written statements, talking of low self-esteem. Posts from one person talking about emotional well-being, with thousands of notes attached to it, each person adding their apparent caring.

I will say this, and without holding back. Yes, mental illness and low self-esteem requires the breaking of barriers and stigma. But, today, that message has got lost, and, instead, we are faced with a movement which, for want of a better word, romanticises these conditions. And this, in itself, is dangerous.

I’ve been treated for mental health illnesses since I was about fourteen. I have been on numerous medications, had all types of out-patient treatment, and also in patient care. I have been diagnosed, and treated for, depressions, anxiety, PTSD and a few more besides. I was lucky. I was able to get treatment relatively quickly, initially as a paediatric patient on the NHS, and then privately through insurance. However, I recognise that most young people today are not this fortunate. Many will wait firstly for the primary carer to believe what they are saying, and then for a referral to see a professions which seems to never materialise. This is why online support must be appropriate and responsibility must be taken by those who publish material in the public domain.

Look, lets be honest, there is still a stigma around mental health. Yes, it is slowly disappearing. Those in the public eye are willing to use their past in order to break down the barriers, and get people talking. The build up to this years London marathon saw that, culminating in Prince Harry discussing his history with mental health. Yet, there is still the stigma. When I first started dating my now fiancée, I had to work out when the right time was to open up and tell her. I couldn’t do it too soon for fear of scaring her away. Yet, I couldn’t leave it too long for fear of being accused of letting them in without full awareness. So, in that sense, a stigma still survives.

To put it in a nutshell, people on both sides want to break down these barriers and make talking about mental health as normal as talking about the weather. Unfortunately, when people go onto the internet, they lose the real world safety nets. Namely, professionals, friends and family. Once online, and I now talk from personal experience, shutting off the pain of having a mental illness is easy. When you know you are surrounded by people of a similar mindset, then change is not needed. And, it is in this setting, that ideals are formed, and the condition becomes romanticised through art.

Logging into a platform such as Tumblr, when suffering from a mental illness, seeing a page full of others suffering, is not a help, but a danger. And it is a danger which goes unchallenged. You see, there is a culture which has now grown up causing people to idolise mental illness. It encourages self-harm, self-medication and, at the extreme end, suicide with the belief of immortality as a lost soul. I am not for a minute saying that every person who logs onto sites like this and sees this images will go onto commit suicide, but the risk is there. It can suck people in, to make them believe that being part of this community is far better than going through the pain that is therapy. Somehow, it convinces people that through embracing mental illness, glorifying it as a tragedy, and staying within these isolated communities where people do not encourage you to get the help and live aside from your mental illness, is somehow the answer.

Well, let me tell you, it isn’t. Locking yourself away, inside an online community which feeds on those in need, in the hope that you do not seek help from those who can provide it, is not the answer. I met people on Tumblr which, at the time, I considered friends. When my account became inactive, on the advice of my doctor, I started getting messages asking me to come back, to be part of the group. And this highlighted it to me. They do not want people to get better. They want their isolated pocket, where people feed off each other, to remain.

Sites such as Tumblr have a responsibility. They need to step up, and see what is actually going on within their platforms. Within their online site, a small message pops up asking if people wish to continue to be able to see these images. On their app, there isn’t even this. And this is completely unacceptable. Sites are right now clambering to show that they are willing to do all it takes to prevent certain users from sharing information or images, in order to comply not only with laws, but public image. Now is the time for them to step forward, and truly show their want to protect people and do the right thing.

Depression – a ready made excuse

Urgh. Stop with the depression crap. I was actually on the receiving end of these words, after failing to be able to leave my house to go out with someone, until that moment, I called a friend. I am sure that, had I been in bed with the flu, or on crutches after sustaining an injury, that they would have been more understanding and not worried about it. Yet, because I was in a state which meant I didn’t want to leave the safety of my flat, I was apparently playing the depression card.

Stop being so boring. Wanting to stay indoors, watching a film, ordering domino’s with friends should sound like a great night to many. And for me, it was. Unfortunately, for some of my friends, this was dull. They wanted to go out, get wasted, and end up in a night club. Brilliant. I get to be around hundreds of strangers, all intoxicated, trying to keep my anxiety at bay. Put yourself in that place. Surrounded by drunken strangers. Some being overly kind, others clearly looking for a fight. Your breathing is short and shallow, palms sweaty, blurred vision. Yeah, now tell me I’m being boring. Unfortunately, they did, and said I should stop hiding behind the anxiety. Yeah, because it’s a shield right?

You don’t have depression. One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is tell my friends and family of my illness. The reactions, on the whole, were as expected. I was supported, and not treated any differently. However, for some people, they couldn’t react in a worse way. “Oh, isn’t that one of the cool illnesses everyone has currently?” “Your aren’t depressed, you just need to cheer up.” Or, my favourite one, “How can you be depressed? You’ve got a job and friends.” Damn, if only it was that easy people.

Maybe we should stop talking. Now this was a classic. This one is almost a line out of a break up. Yet, that’s what it felt like. Telling someone how I was feeling, the treatment I was taking, and that it was all just too much. Their reaction? To look at me with fear in their eyes, like I was about to turn around and turn into some sort of deranged lunatic. Although, I suspect this person thought I was. I guess that’s the problem when you struggle to spell the medication. I mean, if they called them sunflower pills or happy hoppers, I’m sure people wouldn’t react the same way.

You aren’t trying hard enough. This was something I told myself every day. Each time I didn’t go out. Each time I spent the day on the sofa. Each time I cried. Over and over, I would tell myself I wasn’t doing the right thing, I wasn’t trying to get better. It’s one thing when you say it to yourself. It’s completely different when your manager says it. Especially after they know you’ve just been discharged from hospital. Still, I guess in this day and age, a hospital stay followed by some medication, and I should be doing party tricks every minute of the day. Apologies I wasn’t.

Mental illnesses suck. Frankly, yes they do. The effort that goes into getting up each day and being a functioning human is huge. The knowledge that stepping outside your front door could lead to all sorts of terrifying events is not an exaggeration – but a standard day. Yes, we manage. We get by through pumping ourselves full or artificial mood stabilisers. We carry emergency rations in our pockets to bring our anxiety levels down. We try to take these tablets each day without being seen, to prevent the questions, and then the judgemental looks that people have. It isn’t easy. And damn, it isn’t fun. Nor, as a certain commentator recently put it, is it a fad that people want to join in with.

Depression isn’t an excuse. Pretty much what each and every case example about is saying. Anyone with a physical illness can use it as an explanation as to why they may not be able to go out, or spend as much time doing what they want to, or having to take time off work. Yet, when the illness is mental, when it is something that cannot be seen, people become a lot less tolerant; trying to convince you instead that it is your fault that you are how you are. The thing is though, when you suffer with depression, or any other mental illness for that matter, the sufferer isn’t using it as an excuse. They aren’t deliberately being difficult, or causing plans to be changed. It is part of who they are, and something they want to be able to control. Sometimes though, they will have days where it isn’t possible. And, on those days, support them. Do not berate them. Most of all, think before you speak.

Stay Strong People. Stay You.

Yes, I have a illness. No, I am not weak

There is nothing more infuriating than someone treating you as weak. When you tell them you are suffering from a mental health illness, the attitude is very much you are fragile, weak, child like. People being to walk around you on egg shells, not sure what they can and cannot say.

Well, let me say this, for everyone out there that has ever been diagnosed with a mental health illness. Yes, it is a part of me. Yes, I will have days where I want nothing more than to curl up with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream watching TV. Yes, I will talk about it. But, do not treat me with kid gloves, for I am not a child. Do not talked to me in hushed voices, for I am not on deaths door. Do not consider me weak, for I have a strength inside me you know not.

Fighting a mental illness is not the same as fighting a cold, or mending a broken leg. It involves a lot of work, every single day. You learn skills in order to keep your mind healthy and functioning. It is hard work sometimes, yes. But, that doesn’t mean I am any different to you or others you know.

The next time someone opens up to you, do not look at them as though they should be locked away. Do not tell them to not talk, for talking often helps as part of their coping strategy. Do not treat them any differently. If they opened to you, its because they trusted you. So respect that, and be grateful. Opening up is never easy, so consider yourself privileged that the person can confide in you.

And, to those of you suffering, do not suffer in silence. Do not let those who treat you differently put you off speaking up and speaking out. For every person who does that, I promise you, there are 10 times as many who will treat you exactly the same way as before you spoke to them. And they will do so for one very simple reason. They are your friends and your family. They are the people who will love you no matter what you tell them. They will be there in your darkest moment, and there to celebrate your best.

No matter what, do not let the small minority force you into hiding. Shout from the roof tops. I have a mental illness. But it does not define me!

Stay Strong. Stay You

Tumblr, the damage, and my campaign

Just over a month ago, I wrote a piece on internet safety. In particular, I highlighted the social media platform Tumblr, owned by Yahoo! and, currently, seeing 555 monthly visitors. It is easy to access, with blogs simple to set up, which can then be managed either any computer, or through mobile phones and a downloadable app.

For most people, Tumblr is simply a way to share and discuss interests and hobbies. It enables people to search for key words and see all similar posts and blogs. For most, it is completely innocent and harmless.

Unfortunately, as with any multimedia platform, there is a darker side. For their part, Tumblr have put in place measures to prevent people coming across NSFW content, such as adult blogs. However, this relies on people marking their blogs as such, and people searching to have their Safe Mode turned on. Having a cursory look, there is no age verification performed when selecting to turn the Safe Mode off, meaning anyone, regardless of age, can access this.

However, campaigns regarding access to adult material are well established. The media have taken to this as expected – it is a subject people recognise as having a negative impact on lives, particularly those who are young, and, therefore, no one questions these campaigns.

Unfortunately, there is also a darker side to Tumblr – one that does not require a Safe Mode to be deactivated in order to access it. There is an epidemic happening on Tumblr, and one they do not seem to wish to acknowledge.

I am, of course, referring to the sharing of images and text. Whilst many will argue that they are sharing posts in solidarity to show support, to people in need, they can actually be seen to create a warped, almost romanticised narrative, leading not to help, but instead to further self harm and, potentially, suicide.

In 2012, British teenager Tallulah Wilson committed suicide, after posting self-harm images to Tumblr. It was also reported than she was sent an image of a noose with the message “here is your new necklace, try it on.” The UK Government called on Tumblr to remove toxic content. Tumblr responded advising that they wanted to protect freedom of expression, but users could report blogs that promoted self harm.

In America, the Washington Post reported a number of cases where teenagers uploaded their suicide letter to Tumblr, before committing the act. Leelah Alcorn, 17. Zander Mahaffey, 15. Damien Strum, 13, attempted this, but his letter was found and family were alerted before he could go through with his plans.

Unfortunately, the letters that were posted were then shared multiple times. On all these occasions, people were not saying they supported suicide, but were trying to show solidarity with those in need.

And there, unfortunately, lies the problem. The way these images are being shared, the way letters are being shared, all have the impact of showing self harm and suicide in a positive light. Tumblr, in wanting to protect free speech, is actually allowing this to go ahead.

I understand the want for people to talk, and feel part of a community. I understand the need to feel as though you are not alone, and that other people understand. I get why teenagers go to these platforms. They can remain anonymous, yet talk about their feelings. Unfortunately, by being anonymous, so are the people they talk to. At best, it means there are teenagers going without help who need it. At worst, it means they are talking to people who do not have their best interests at heart, and are looking at prey on their vulnerability.

Tumblr reported that they would introduce a page which, when searching specific key words, would direct people to resources to get help. Unfortunately, this no longer seems to work. Even when it did, there was still the option allowing people to proceed to the content.

I get the need to protect freedom of speech and expression. But with that comes responsibility. If people were promoting defamatory material, it wouldn’t be allowed. The platform has even shut down those looking to promote material from ISIS and associated groups. In fact, the only thing it doesn’t seem to want to do, is put measures in place to protect the vulnerable.

Right now, mental health has become the ‘elephant in the room’ again. No one seems to want to talk about it. Media have become focused on the dangers of internet predators. Celebrities, once openly talking about mental health, are now focussing their energy on Donald Trump and Brexit. Mental health is, once again, being pushed into a corner, with no one wanting to do anything.

Given you are here, reading this blog, I can hope that you are not that person. I can hope that you want to be someone who wants to make a difference. To be someone who will stand up and speak out for those who need help.

Please, if you do just one thing today to help those who are being affected by the images they see on Tumblr, please sign my petition. This will be delivered to both elected officials and Tumblr in order to put pressure on them to take real action, and not just words. Once you have signed it, please share it. Show you want to help. The more this is shared, the more people will sit up and listen and do their bit.

 http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-tumblr-damaging-our-youth

Thank you for taking your time to read this. Only together will we be able to take the necessary steps to get people talking about Mental Health, and put measures in place to protect and support those in need.

 

Stay strong. Stay you.

 

A pjs day is not a negative, so don’t judge me for it

For many people, a day of sitting at home, in your pjs, with a blanket and some films sounds like a luxury; a great way to take time out from a hectic schedule, and to recharge those batteries. Yet, for those who are recovering from a mental health condition, a day spent being curled up is often seen as a failure.

It sounds silly. If you feel an old ankle injury flaring up, you will rest it. If you have a heavy cold, you will spend the day resting to let your body fight it. Yet, if you are recovering, or have recovered from, a mental health condition, then having a duvet day when you feel in need of some time to yourself, can be frowned upon by not only yourself, but others.

The problem comes from poor internet websites. There are often too many people out there who think they can say that people are being lazy rather than depressed, for example. One of my all-time favourite was an individual trying to explain the difference between being lazy and depressed stated that lazy people choose not to do things they don’t want to do, but are happy doing what they do want. The example they gave was in not going to work, but happy to go out for a walk.

This one example, easy to find replicated, is also one of the biggest reasons people with depression hide away.

When I was at one of my lowest points, I was signed off work. I’d already been calling in sick, and knew I needed the GP to support me. Part of the advice, however, from the GP, was to still ensure I get out the house.

Now, that was fine, the advice made sense. I’d heard the endorphin release from exercise could help raise my mood. The only problem was, I lived in the same town I worked. I did as the GP said, and saw people I worked with, giving me judgemental stares. It would even be mentioned by my manager that I had been spotted in town that day.

So, instead of taking my GP’s advice, I stayed at home after that, not wanting to be subject to their judgement. This led to an even further spiral into depression, and the things that followed.

Now, I would like to say that I am in no way blaming these individuals for the worsening of my condition. I have no proof that if I had kept on going out, that I still wouldn’t have fallen further. However, what I am saying is the judgement passed by these individuals did not help.

It also means that I often beat myself up mentally for wanting a day of just watching films, eating rubbish food and generally not doing anything. Others may call them fat days, or say they are days where calories don’t count. Duvet days give the impression of a nice relaxed time. Yet, when someone suffers depression, or has suffered from, they know people will be quick to label them as lazy. Even more so, they will label their selves as lazy first.

So please, if you know someone suffering from depression, do not label them as lazy because they avoid situations which make them feel worse. Do not judge them for needing to take time to recharge and look after their selves. Instead, tell them to take the time, in the way you would someone who has a sprain or fracture. Ask them if they want company, but don’t be offended if they say no.

And, most of all, whether you have suffered from a mental health condition or not, whether you are currently suffering or not, do not ever worry about taking a pj day. Enjoy them. Relax. Unwind. Take time to look after number 1.

Stay strong. Stay you.